Denmark is a low country. Its relationship to water is a close one. Since its early beginnings as a fishing village in the Viking age, Copenhagen has valued its relationship with the water. Today, canals create unique neighbourhoods and an aesthetic that draws huge numbers of tourists every year. But now that same water threatens the future of the city it helped to create.
Design againt a watery threat
Rising sea levels pose a threat to many low-lying cities throughout the world, but the specific threat varies regionally. According to a 2015 study from the Centre for Ice and Climate at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, sea levels around the city will rise by 0.68 meters, but there is a risk of increases as high as 1.6 meters above current levels.
Copenhagen’s unique topography means that the city is already feeling the impacts of climate change. In July 2011, 150mm of rainfall fell in just three hours causing chaos across the city. “Residents and shopkeepers throughout the city were still bailing and pumping out flooded basements, mopping muddy floors and hauling waterlogged furniture, books and clothes to bins”, reported the Copenhagen Post.
Proactive design-led solutions
While future prospects may look bleak, Copenhagen’s city planners are proactively working on creative landscape architecture solutions that respond to the climate threats, but also proactively engineer new landscapes for residents.
Lykke Leonardsen, the City of Copenhagen’s Head of Resilient and Sustainable City Solutions, sees the city’s climate adaptation as an opportunity to develop new urban assets and experiences for its inhabitants. She told city planning journal Foreground the cultural integrity of an area should not only be maintained, but enriched through adaptation strategies.
“We look at the specific landscape architectural characteristics of the area and find out what we want to keep, what we want to strengthen further, and what opportunities there are to bring something new to the space,” she said.
Public space that works with the water
One prime example is Enghaveparken public park, which was designed as a gathering space for the dry season that can accommodate 24,000 cubic meters of water when it floods. “Additionally, the design is based on sustainable principles which help biodiversification and provide a wide range of recreational spaces”, explains an article on Inhabitat.
While such design will help deal with extreme downpours such as the 2011 storm, more drastic measures are needed to combat the rising sea levels of the future.
Copenhagen partnered up with one the world’s biggest cities to share advice on successful climate solutions. New York City is learning from Copenhagen’s experience with cloudburst management, while Copenhagen is drawing on New York City’s experience with coastal flooding.
A new living and working space
The new Nordhavn residential and commercial district was built upon reclaimed land, raised using soil deposits taken from the construction of new Metro lines.
The new Sluseholmen development of diverse commercial and residential buildings in the southern harbour district is divided by an imperfect grid of canals. The buildings, bridges and walkways are all raised well above current water levels to protect the district from turbulent storms, but despite this, designers have maintained pedestrian access to the canals by including staircases that lead down to the water’s edge.
Copenhagen faces considerable challenges in the face of climate change, but the city’s creative approach to climate adaptation is attracting attention all around the world.